While Alex Anthopoulos worked as J.P. Ricciardi’s assistant, the Toronto Blue Jays let outfielder Alex Rios go free to the Chicago White Sox on waivers in August of 2009.
Named general manager that fall, Anthopoulos traded outfielder Vernon Wells to the Los Angeles Angels in January of 2011 for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera, then flipped Napoli to the Texas Rangers.
Anthopoulos has now made 40 trades as general manager, the first of them sending Cy Young winner Roy Halladay to the Philadelphia Phillies for catcher Travis d’Arnaud, pitcher Kyle Drabek and outfielder Michael Taylor.
Having boiled down payroll with all those transactions, the club decided to reinvest in the roster this past off-season by making trades with the Miami Marlins and the New York Mets, signing infielder Maicer Izturis and left fielder Melky Cabrera as free agents, and rehiring John Gibbons as manager.
As a result, the Blue Jays were predicted far and wide to place first in the American League East this season, while the Boston Red Sox were predicted to place last. Instead, the Red Sox (18-7) and former Jays manager John Farrell hold down first place, and the Blue Jays (9-17) reside in the basement as the clubs meet for a three-game series at Rogers Centre, starting Tuesday.
Everything old is new again.
Through four weeks of the season, of the six roster players from the Marlins and Mets trades, only the injured Jose Reyes was performing at or above expectations, though lefty Mark Buehrle gets a big asterisk as defensive follies have sabotaged his outings. Cabrera, coming off a drug suspension, has three extra-base hits in 104 at-bats, and Izturis has struggled at the plate (.200) and in the field.
For all the sabermetrics that may be factored into decisions these days, making deals remains an inexact science. Who knows? Stand pat, and Wells (.294, 6 HR, 12 RBIs) and Rios (.281, 6, 11) might be manning the Jays’ outfield with Jose Bautista rather than Cabrera (.250, 0, 6) and Colby Rasmus (.225, 4, 9).
The Jays got effectively nothing for Napoli, who became an all-star with Texas in 2011 and joined Boston this season. D’Arnaud went to the Mets in the package for 38-year-old R.A. Dickey (2-4, 4.50 ERA) in December.
“It was definitely a thought to stay in the same uniform my whole career, but I understand the business aspect of it,” Wells, obtained by the New York Yankees in March, said last weekend. “They [Blue Jays] needed to free up money. When you are put in position to run a team, there are so many different ways you can go with it. I still think Alex has done a great job over there, bringing in talent, building up the minor-league system. Everything looks great when you’re winning, everything looks a little more glaring when you’re losing. Their time will come.”
Anthopoulos, meeting reporters in New York on Sunday, and Bautista, speaking after a loss on Saturday, each preached patience. The Blue Jays have been hurt by injuries, substandard infield defence, slow starts by 3-4 hitters Bautista (.192, 7, 11) and Edwin Encarnacion (.227, 7, 16), shallow starting pitching and wretched situational hitting.
Yet, 17 of their 26 games have been decided by one or two runs. Logically, improvement should result in turnaround.
“I remember in 2009, the first six weeks of the season, we had the best record in baseball,” Anthopoulos said. “Then we went on a trip and lost nine in a row, and for the last 4 1/2 months we had the third-worst record. It changes fast.”
Not the most inspiring example, perhaps, but his point was that the season is young, easily salvageable. The Houston Astros, circa 2005, started the season with 15 wins and 30 defeats before winning the National League championship and losing to Buehrle and the White Sox in the World Series.
“We just have to play good baseball consistently through nine innings,” Bautista told reporters. “It seems like every single mistake we make ends up costing us a game. We have no breathing room, so we just have to tighten it up.”
Realistically, it would take the next month to repair the damage done in the first month, which is why Dickey called for the clubhouse to adopt a “sense of urgency” for the Red Sox series.
Boston Red Sox (18-7) at Toronto Blue Jays (9-17)
Tuesday, 7:05 p.m. ET: LH John Lester (4-0, 2.27) vs. RH Brandon Morrow (0-2, 5.27).
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. ET: RH Clay Buchholz (5-0, 1.19) vs. LH Mark Buehrle (1-1, 6.35).
Thursday, 7:05 p.m. ET: RH Ryan Dempster (1-2, 3.30) vs. TBD.
Notes: With five consecutive wins, the Red Sox need a victory on Tuesday to establish a club record for April wins. … Before Monday games, the Red Sox and Oakland A’s were tied atop the American League for on-base percentage, .347, while the Blue Jays ranked 14th out of 15 teams, .291. The Red Sox rank first for slugging percentage at .442, with Toronto 10th at .399. … Mike Napoli has 18 extra-base hits and 27 RBIs. … Dempster has 43 of the MLB-record 248 staff strikeouts for April. … Red Sox DH David Ortiz returned from injury to hit .516 in eight games, and Dustin Pedroia carries a .438 on-base percentage into Toronto. … On Sunday, Blue Jays 3B Brett Lawrie became the fourth player used in the leadoff slot since Jose Reyes was injured on April 14. … RH Sergio Santos, out 15 games with a tricep strain, is to begin throwing in the next few days.